Doing the job right is best way to top yields
In the second of our series
of articles profiling the
finalists in the Unit Cost
Challenge we find out how a
Norfolk grower grew wheat
for under £40/t in 1997.
Charles Abel reports
PENNY pinching to cut costs and protect margins is false economy, claims James Thomas, who farms 350ha of medium and heavy loam with his father, Peter, at Collin Green Farm, Lyng, Norfolk.
Spending enough money on inputs and mechanisation to do the job right and get the best yield is the key, he maintains.
"We have done what every adviser tells us not to; we have invested in new kit. But we must have the right kit to do the job. Whether wheat is £70/t or £120/t, you still have to farm the land for maximum yield."
Equipment is kept as long as possible, but fear of breakdowns delaying harvest, autumn drilling or spraying means tractors are replaced after five years, the combine after six or seven and the sprayer after seven or eight years. "Timeliness is essential," says Mr Thomas.
That is a view echoed by Brown Butlin judge Mark Waltham. "There is an extra cost compared with using a contractor or working smaller, older machines. But this can be compared to an insurance premium. Most years you wont need it, but when things do go wrong it can pay dividends."
Appropriate combine capacity ensures swift harvesting, so yield and quality loss, drying costs and knock-on delays for cultivations are avoided. And while ploughing may seem costly, if it gets the crop away well and helps cut weed control it is worthwhile, says Mr Thomas.
Furthermore, the farm hopes to acquire more land in future. "We have the kit to do another 100ha. Now all we need to do is find the ground to work it on."
A simple establishment strategy sees total seed-bed costs cut to just £58/ha. Wheat stubble is ploughed and pressed, then drilled immediately using a 3m Vaderstad Rapide cultivator drill.
The five-year-old £10,000 plough is pulled by a four-year-old ex-demo 155hp MF8130. It does 700 hours a year and costs just £1200 in repairs and maintenance. With a £6.50/ hour driver and 1ha/hour workrate, it costs £19/hour, giving an overall plough and press cost of £31.20/ha. The five-year-old drill cost £20,000 new and depreciates at £1600 a year. Together with spares and repairs, plus a £19/hour tractor doing 1.5ha/hour, drilling costs £20/ha.
Spreading is with a one-year-old 24m Amazone ZAM working at 12ha/hour. Together with loading costs it operates at £2.80/ha. Four passes mean £11.20/ha.
Spraying is by a 24m Knight demount on a JCB Fastrac. Working at 100-125 litres/ha allows a 7ha/ hour workrate, including filling time, holding cost down to £3.91/ha. But a desire to spray at the right time means five passes – one autumn spray, three spring fungicides and a separate growth regulator – costing £19.95/ha in all.
Using machines to boost yield where possible is a further goal. A key part of the new machinery line-up is the MF 40RS yield mapping combine.
With 20ft header it can cut 2.5ha/hour and its yield mapping facility helps identify areas with limiting factors.
Map-guided lime testing identified patches needing treatment which traditional random testing failed to find, says Mr Thomas.
Further investigations should help ensure yields are pushed higher in future, helping offset the overheads which can not be avoided if a respectable crop is to be grown, he reasons.
New machines are justified if they boost timeliness and cut total growing costs, say Peter (left) and James Thomas of Lyng, Norfolk.